Thanks to a dunk by forward Mike Sands ’11 in the closing seconds, the Yale men’s basketball team (3-5) pulled off a thrilling 48-46 victory over the University of Hartford’s Hawks (2-5) Wednesday night at Hartford’s Chase Arena.

“It was a great, gritty win for us,” head coach James Jones said. “We made plays when we had to on offense, and made plays when we had to on defense. We really toughed it out.”

To say the game was evenly matched is an understatement. Both teams made 18 shots from the field. The Bulldogs attempted 45 field goals, while the Hawks attempted 44. Yale shot 40 percent; Hartford, 41 percent. And while Yale hit four three-pointers, Hartford knocked down five.

Ultimately, though, the difference came on the glass — the Elis outrebounded their intrastate rival 38-26 en route to the win.

The disparity in that category was in large part the result of the return to form of center Paul Nelson ’10, who made his return after missing three games due to an ankle injury. Nelson delivered a crucial double-double in the contest, adding 10 points to his 11 rebounds.

Out of the gate, the game was anything but even. The Hawks started the contest on a 13-0 run, which ended only when a Josh Davis ’10 layup finally got the Bulldogs on the board with just under 12 minutes to go in the half. That layup sparked a 14-2 run for the Elis, which included two three-pointers from captain Alex Zampier ’10.

“This was probably our best bad start,” Zampier said in a press conference after the game. “We were getting good shots. They just weren’t falling.”

The back-and-forth battle continued as the Hawks scored seven points in the next minute and a half, building the lead back up to eight. But fueled by a three from Raffi Mantilla ’11, Yale was able to close the gap to five going into the intermission.

Coming out of the break, the Bulldogs and Hawks exchanged points, and after five minutes Yale still trailed by six. The Elis, with baskets from Zampier, Nelson and forward Reggie Willhite ’12, crafted a 6-0 run to tie it up with 12 minutes to go.

After Hartford’s Charles White scored on a layup, the Hawks’ Joe Zeglinski buried a three to regain the lead. As they had done all game, the Bulldogs responded as guard Jordan Gibson ’10 followed up a Greg Mangano ’12 jumper with a huge bucket to cut the lead to one.

The Bulldogs then hit three free throws to take a two-point lead with eight minutes to go, but Hartford reclaimed the lead just moments later on a three from Morgan Sabia.

Then Zampier took over. The captain scored seven points in two and a half minutes to open up a six-point lead for the Elis with 2:30 left.

The Hawks cut the lead to one on their next possession, and after a Michael Grace ’13 free throw built Yale’s lead back to two, Hartford’s Zeglinski drove to the hole and tied it with 12.6 seconds to go.

Zeglinski then missed the front end of a one-and-one to give the Bulldogs possession. The Elis inbounded it to Zampier, who drove to the basket and dished the ball to an open Sands, who slammed it home for the game winner.

“We inbounded to Al, set him up off a high screen, and he made a play” Jones said. “They came with a double-, almost a triple-, team, and he passed down to Mike, who finished it.”

Added Sands: “Al is our go-to guy. My guy helped on him, and he made the pass. I was in the right place at the right time.”

The win moves Yale’s record to 3-5 with a month to go until the start of Ivy League play. After a 1-4 start, the Bulldogs are 2-1 in their last three contests. They will look to continue their climb to .500 Monday at 7 p.m., when Vermont (4-4) visits the John J. Lee Amphitheater.